Indispensability: When Measuring Satisfaction Isn’t Enough

Clients often come to us with requests to do a Member Satisfaction Survey. After a discussion to gauge what their true research objectives are, we often steer them toward a Member Indispensability Study instead. But why?

Satisfaction doesn’t equate to longevity. In our research experience, we have seen that satisfaction isn’t a strong driver of member retention. In fact, we often see that lapsed members report high levels of satisfaction with the association membership, often very similar to the satisfaction levels of current members.

Satisfaction can be too broad a concept. In surveys, we often include a general question about the levels of satisfaction with one’s membership, but it is generally an overarching question that provides a simplistic answer to a broad question. It doesn’t provide in-depth information that an association can use to determine where improvements may be necessary.

Member indispensability examines multiple layers. When MGI conducts a Member Indispensability Study, we ask about perceptions of importance and delivery for a wide range of benefits and services offered by an association. This provides a two-pronged measure: a clear indication on whether a benefit is truly important to the members, and an evaluation of how well the association is doing in its delivery of that benefit. Other aspects measured include awareness, usage, and relevance of each benefit, giving a much better indication of true engagement than simply asking for a response to a satisfaction scale.

Member indispensability studies provide actionable data. This indispensability metric offers a more actionable evaluation of the benefits and services provided. Data from this type of survey deliver information on what benefits need improvements, which benefits may be reduced if not eliminated, which benefits people seem to be less aware of, and even which benefits are less relevant to the membership. It also details a ranked list of benefits showing which are most important. This information can provide a road map for associations when creating messaging, determining where to allot resources, and even which benefits may need a “new introduction” to the membership.

Both satisfaction and indispensability have a place in research. Measures of satisfaction and measures of indispensability can coexist in the research world. Both metrics serve a purpose for benchmarking over time, and can be used effectively to determine differences based on specific member segments (i.e., tenure in the profession, role in the profession, age, etc.). Understanding overall objectives for the research helps determine what metrics are the most useful for any research project.

Do you need help identifying the right type of research for your organization? Contact Adina Wasserman, PhD, MGI’s Director, Market Research, at or at (703) 706-0373.

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